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There are several purposes of assessment in science education, and national science standards help specify them. Of the 28 national science standards five are assessment oriented:

The data collected from assessments is meant to inform states, districts, and schools as well as help teachers improve instruction. In order to improve assessment of student learning, many types of assessment should be considered (Wright, 2001, p. 60). For example, a new approach to assessment is to base test design and content on a continuum of expertise that can measure levels of knowledge transfer from classroom science lessons to standards-based, high-stakes tests (Atkin, Black, & Coffey, 2001; Hickey, Kindfield, Horwitz, & Christie, 2003; Pellegrino, Chudowsky, & Glaser, 2001).

Normally, science content standards are meant to be curriculum guidelines that specify the central concepts and skills students need to master within the discipline of science. However, many state-level standards are either too vague or too detailed to be useful in this regard (Rothman, Stattery, Vranek, & Resnick, 2002). Assessment designers need to review these guidelines to identify indicators that can be used to acknowledge growth of student content expertise. More constructive than a fact-based approach to science, instruction and assessment that focuses on gateway science concepts, principles, and methods can provide students with opportunities to acquire a deep understanding of science and transfer this understanding from one science lesson to another and beyond.

Supporting such growth opportunities, appropriate assessment is critical in measuring, monitoring, and improving student progress. Assessment may be formative or summative (or a combination of both) or diagnostic. Formative assessment is a tool to monitor and map students' day-to-day progress in multiple problem solving. Summative assessment, on the other hand, provides a basis for reporting student grades or meeting academic standards. In other words, it is a snapshot of student learning collected on a given day to gather and report data. Diagnostic assessment is usually given before instruction to help determine students' prior understanding of topics before instruction (Wright, 2001, p. 60).

Among the National Science Education Standards for assessment in science is a call for a match between the technical quality of the student data collection processes and the consequences of the actions taken or decisions made on the basis of those data (National Research Council, 1996). Data-based decision making is a critical component of carrying out the requirements of NCLB. In science and in other disciplines, it can ultimately improve outcomes for all children when both formative and summative achievement measures are used to drive instruction, individualize opportunities to learn, and fine tune the organization of schooling (Consortium for School Networking, 2003).

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